by Annabelle Leigh

Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break,
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.
You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.

-A Renewal, James Merrill

It's the end of a long day, and we've finally put this case to rest. Thank God. I finished typing out the last of the paperwork just ten minutes ago. All that's left now is to testify at their trials—the dethroned prince and princess of cyberland. But that won't be for another few months, after their lawyers have exhausted all their petitions and motions, the usual legal stalling.

You come breezing into the bullpen, walk up to my desk. We both know we still have things to settle between us. You lost your cool in a big way on this case, and I was pretty damned cold—both of us wrong in our ways, both of us right to a certain extent. I make some silly comment about your face looking better, and then I ask how your head is. You return my silliness, doing your "Leave It to Beaver" impression, letting me know it's all fine now. You got your job back. You're over the anger. You've forgiven me for not seeing things your way, for throwing your own words back in your face.

It's good to have you smiling again and really meaning it. It's a relief to see your playful nature making a comeback. There are days I regret ever having brought you into my world, when I see how it's changed you, what it's taken away. When I met you, you were so light-hearted and carefree, innocent. This job—the things you've seen, the God-awful things that have been done to you—have chipped away at that. That's why it's so wonderful to see the old Blair again, the calm, composed, gentle Blair, the man I depend upon you to be.

The least I can do is join in, play along, be Wally to your Beaver.

"Dad called. Said we've got a body down at Miller's Pond," I quip, getting up from my desk.

You smile. "Is it just you and me again, Wally?"

"You betcha," I tell you.

We both head for the door, taking different routes. You ask me where I'm going, jokingly. I know it's nothing. I shouldn't let it sour this moment. I try not to feel that it's symbolic of our friendship these going your way, me going mine. I toss off some throwaway line about Gus the fisherman being our suspect. You laugh, more than my lame ass joke deserves. That's the thing about you. You always try so hard.

We get on the elevator, and as the doors are closing, we can both feel the jollity evaporating. I'm only pretending after all, only going through the motions, and we both know it. I don't feel light-hearted. I don't feel anything at all, and I haven't since I found you face down in that fountain and couldn't hear your heart beating.

We make our way down to the parking garage and get into the truck. On the ride home, the jagged silence returns with a vengeance. It gets between us, creating barriers, blotting out the last vestiges of playful good humor. You watch me with equal parts curiosity and disappointment. I stare straight out the windshield, as if I'm navigating a minefield instead of the familiar way home. But I can feel you watching me. You want to ask what the hell is going on, what on earth is wrong with me. You have asked, many times, in many ways, since we got back to the loft, since we returned from Sierra Verde. Since you came back to life.

But I don't know how to answer you. I try to avoid discussing it, try to change the subject whenever you bring it up, but every time I turn around, you're playing twenty questions with me. Is it because Megan found out about your senses? Do you blame me for that? You asked the day before yesterday. Are you still mad that I didn't tell you about Alex being a Sentinel? I try to reassure you the best I can. I don't know how effective it is, probably not as much as I'd like. You pretty much assume that anything bugging me has to do with you. Which maybe this does. I don't know. But it's nothing you've done wrong, nothing that's your fault.

What do you fear? Incacha's voice floats up from the dark well of things I'd rather forget. The images have faded since I had the vision, but the one thing I remember is that you were in them and you were hurt, over and again, in so many terrible ways. That's my recurrent waking nightmare—your suffering because of me, my losing you. All I see is death in my dreams. Incacha talked of the light needing to overcome darkness, but the darkness is in me. That's what this fear is, a bottomless, leaden weight pulling me under. Somehow, even though you were the one who lost your life, I am the one who feels dead inside. How could I ever tell you this? And even if I could, you'd only ask me why. I don't know why, and I don't want to think about it.

When we get back to the apartment, you slam the truck door and go ahead of me. I lag behind. Coming home fills me with the most intense dread these days. I don't understand this either. Sometimes, I think it's because I'm terrified you'll leave. Other times, I think I'm afraid of what will happen to me if you stay.

When I finally get to the loft, you're already in your room. I hear you moving around in there, searching for something in the various piles. It didn't take long for your bedroom to return to its usual state of disorder, almost as if nothing had ever happened.


"I'm going to take a shower," you call, heading for the bathroom.

"Okay," I answer. "I'll start dinner."

I throw my keys onto the table and go into the kitchen. I wash my hands and start taking food out of the refrigerator. I'm not up to making anything too elaborate—just some broiled chicken and baked potatoes and salad. I spread the food out on the counter and rifle around in the cabinets for pots and bowls. This brings me a sense of comfort. Making dinner is so uncomplicated, so basic. It's good to concentrate on the fundamentals, the landscape of simple needs and simple solutions. That's what being a Ranger taught me, to define need sparely, to understand how it differs from want. Need is enough food to go on living. Need is enough water to survive, enough sleep to stay alert to the enemy. Need is what stands between you and annihilation.

This is where I get into trouble with you. I can accept any degree of want where you're concerned. I can accept that I want you back home at the loft, back in my life, as my partner, my friend, my guide. I accept that I want you safe and sound and breathing, and that I'll do pretty much anything to keep you that way. I accept that I want to know you until my very last day on earth. Like I said, I can handle all the want in the world. Just not need. Need is where I have to draw the line with you.

I season the chicken with lemon and garlic, place it on the broiling pan and pop it into the oven. The scene from the hospital flashes across the movie screen in my mind. I remember how it felt to come into your room. I cracked a stupid joke about meeting nurses, and my heart was in my throat the whole time. I kidded you about owing rent you don't even pay, praying that you'd take me up on my clumsy offer, that you'd agree to come home again. I waited for your answer, and it felt like time had stopped.

I'd like to say it was all just a bad case of want, nothing more, but if I'm really honest, I have to admit that it seemed a hell of a lot more like need.

"Fuck!" I yell at no one and nothing in particular.

You emerge from the bathroom, wrapped in your robe, toweling your hair dry. "Are you okay, man? I heard expletives."

I shake my head. "Just caught my finger in the cabinet. No big deal, Chief."

You look at me for a moment, almost as if you're the Sentinel, sensing my lack of honesty. But you don't push.

"Okay, man. I'll go get dressed and then I'll come help."

I nod distractedly. I really don't know what the hell is wrong with me. Focus, I tell myself. Concentrate on what you're doing. Keep your mind on the simple things. I start chopping vegetables for the salad, throwing them into the bowl. What do you fear? The terror splashes up at me again. I see you. I see you being beaten, burned, shot at, blown up. I see you pale and still on the grass. You let him die! I see your disbelief as you watch me packing up all your possessions into those cardboard boxes, ending our friendship without so much as a word of explanation. Don't you go! I see the way your hurt equals my pain.

Want, not need, want, not need. I chant it like a mantra, trying to convince myself. I'm failing miserably and starting to panic.

You come back dressed in one of your ratty old sweaters and torn jeans, your usual attire for lounging around the loft. You start taking out plates and silverware and back into me as I'm moving to the oven to take out the chicken.

"Damn it, Chief. Could you watch where you're going? I'm trying to fix dinner here," I yell at you.

You freeze, looking surprised, hurt, confused. I hate myself all over again. This isn't what you came back from the dead for. What is wrong with you? I hear your voice asking me, during the craziness down in Sierra Verde. You don't actually speak it out loud this time, but your expression says it all. Once more, I don't know how to answer you.

"I'm sorry," I say, quietly, really meaning it.

You look at me, searching my face, as if you're trying to figure something out. Finally, you just nod and let it go. You take the plates over to the table. I get the chicken out of the oven before it burns, take the potatoes from the microwave, grab the salad dressing from the refrigerator. You help me get it all on the table. We sit down together and fill our plates, starting to eat, saying little.

It's amazing how far away I feel, how separate, even though you're sitting right across the table from me. I'm just so damned removed lately, so empty. Does it have to do with what happened at the grotto? What Alex saw? How it fried her brain? You asked last night. It's a logical explanation, but it doesn't feel right. This thing, whatever it is, was already with me then. It's why I didn't go back into the pool. No matter how much I wanted to see what Alex saw, experience it for myself, reach out for the eye of God, this wordless thing inside me was too strong for it. It pulled me back to safety.

I thought it would go away once I got back home. I assumed it was some Sentinel instinct that kicked in because of Alex or finding the temple. But it's still here—only it's become a dead weight inside of me, getting in the way, screwing things up. It definitely affected my take on this case, the whole thing with the Ventriss kid. It shames me to remember how indifferent I was when you told me one of your students had been drugged and raped by the little prick. I wasn't much more sympathetic when you got fired. I don't know how to say it. It's like the part of me that normally responds to the world, to you in particular, is glazed over, unable to function, lifeless.

But I should never have been so tuned out. It's my damn job as a Sentinel to pay attention, especially to you. But I didn't, and you got beaten up. Again. Brad Ventriss turned out to be my murder suspect and almost got away. None of that would have happened if I'd been listening to you. Now I have yet another thing to regret where you're concerned.

And it shouldn't be this way. We were one. That's what Alex said as she self-destructed. But we weren't, not even close. I know because I have been one with someone. With you. I know what that feels like, so unlike anything else—that brief, miraculous moment at the fountain when the light really did shine from inside me, when our animal spirits merged, and there was nothing separating us, as if our very molecules were communing. I had perfect oneness. We had it. Why couldn't we hold onto it? How could we have lost it? Why did I stay dead even after you came back to life?

You stare down at the plate as you pick at your food. Chief, I don't know if I'm ready to take that trip with you. Sick realization flashes through me. Oh God, it's because of me. I fucked this up. Maybe there's just no way to fit perfect oneness into the risk-free category of want. Maybe need is a prerequisite for seamless communion.

My hands start to shake. This...whatever it is...stirs inside me again, powerful and primitive. Maybe it's fury, maybe it's fear. Regardless, it's a physical force. I can feel it pushing against my ribs, wanting out, demanding expression in the world. I stare at you across the table, eating your dinner so innocently, no clue about the tempest that's gathering inside me. Suddenly, I feel afraid for you. There's a part of me that wants to warn you, wants to scream at you to run, to get the hell out of here.

But I don't. I concentrate on my dinner, shoveling the food in mechanically, not tasting it, not even feeling it settle in my stomach. I'm an impossible contradiction. One part of me is all rabid emotion. The other is completely numb. And my rational mind just desperately wants everything to be normal. I finish my meal, and you gather up the dishes to take them into the kitchen. I head into the bathroom, hoping a cold shower will help clear my head.

That's what finally sets me off. You've made a disaster of the bathroom yet again. If I were in my right mind, I'd kid you about it or give you one of my usual lectures about the house rules. But I'm not in my right mind. I explode out of the bathroom and charge over to where you're standing at the sink washing the dishes.

"What the hell is it with you, Sandburg?" I scream at you.

You look so startled, like some defenseless forest creature pounced upon by a dangerous predator. If anybody else made you look like that, I'd want to beat the shit out of them. But I'm too far gone now to regret my own actions.

"What's wrong?" you ask, your face filled with dread.

"I'll show you what's wrong," I say, grabbing you roughly by the arm and dragging you over to the bathroom. "Were you raised by animals? Do you have to leave the bathroom completely trashed every time you use it?" My grip on your arm is like steel. I shake you to emphasize my point. It dimly registers in my angry brain that I'm probably leaving bruises. "I want you to clean this shit up, Sandburg. I want to see this bathroom sparkling. Do you hear me? Sparkling! And I mean now!"

It takes a moment for my words to completely register with you. I see the shock, the confusion, the hurt move across your face. You can never hide anything you feel.

Finally, you pull out of my grip. "Fuck you!" you yell, your face now twisted with rage. "Just fuck you, man!"

That sends the ferocious thing inside me spiraling out of control. My hands are clenched at my side, and I'm breathing like I just ran a race. I press myself back against the wall and rub my hands over my face, trying to regain some measure of control.

"We both know this isn't about a messy bathroom," you say.

"Oh, yeah, Chief? Then what's it about?" I ask, sarcastically.

"That's what I'd like to know, man. You're obviously sublimating what you're feeling in these little outbursts and the rest of the time you're hiding behind your ice man routine. What are you running away from, Jim?"

"That's rich. You're telling me about sublimating."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Why do you think this case got to you so much, after all the shit you've seen? You're pissed at me about what happened down in Sierra Verde, and this is how it's coming out."

"I cannot believe you're turning this around on me. I'm not the one who's being an asshole here. And I have every right to be pissed off about the shit that went on down there."

"Let's have it then, Sandburg. Lay it on the table. I want to hear it."

"Fine. I will. You want to know what bothers me most? It's not even that you wanted to screw the bitch. I can accept that it was some Sentinel instinct gone crazy, that it was out of your control. But it's always in your power to give a shit about how I feel. And I'm not seeing that. I didn't see it down there, and I haven't seen it the whole damned time we've been back."

"I care how you feel, Chief."

"Do you? Do you even think about it? Do you have any idea what it was like to see you running after the person who drowned me, who killed me? To know you were sporting one hell of a boner for the woman who murdered me? I could accept that you didn't want to hurt her, another Sentinel, the only other one we know of. I could even handle that you wanted to help her, try to save her from herself. But I didn't appreciate watching you hang all over her, pawing at her, looking for any opportunity to do the nasty."

I'm shaking all over, and again, I'm split in half. For part of me, these words sink into my flesh like razor blades, tearing me open with guilt. But there's another part of me that's nothing but molten rage.

"But I didn't fuck her, did I?" I throw back at you, grating my teeth.

"Because I interrupted you on the beach. God knows you wanted it bad enough. If I hadn't come along, you'd have done it. You'd have fucked her brains out."

The scales tilt, and the enraged portion of my mind gains the upper hand. "You really want to know the truth? I'll tell you. Truth is I did want to fuck her. I wanted it really badly. She excited me, and I felt alive. It was just so damned good to feel something, anything at all. For once since this whole fucked up thing started, I didn't have this sick, gnawing feeling in my gut like there's something terribly wrong, like something's missing, like I'm nothing inside. Sure, there was a part of me that was disgusted by it, that couldn't believe I could get so turned on by the woman who'd hurt you. That part of me wanted to fight it. That's why I asked for your help. But the other part of me...well, that part just wanted what it wanted. And liked it."

You look at me with eyes wide and bright with hurt and outrage. "After all we've been through together, don't you think I deserve better than that?" you ask, your voice hoarse with pain.

I nod. "Maybe this is all I can give you. Maybe you should cut your losses while you still can."

You stare at me in disbelief, and then I can see you putting together a puzzle in your mind. "You're doing this on purpose," you accuse.

"Why would I do that, Chief?" I ask, tiredly.

"Because you're scared shitless of something. You said before that you felt like something was wrong, something was missing. What does that mean? What's missing, Jim?"

I shake my head. "I don't know what you mean."

"Yes, you do, you bastard. Now tell me. Why couldn't you feel anything?"

"It is none of your damned business, Sandburg."

"Like hell. Like bloody fucking hell. This is my life too here we're talking about, Jim."

"No, it's mine. Your life, my life...not the same thing."

Your eyes glitter with fury, and you're watching me with all your attention. "Yeah. Now I understand. This is about the vision, isn't it?"

"Just fucking leave it alone. I'm warning you."

"You freaked over that. I should have realized by how you reacted at the hospital. What, man? You don't like the idea that your life is tied to mine? So what then? You're going to act like an asshole and get me to leave?"

"Shut up, Sandburg!"

"But that's it, isn't it? That's why you're trying to push me away. You don't want to need me. What? Big tough Jim Ellison's not allowed to need anybody? Well, too fucking bad, man. We all need somebody, and I'm your somebody, like it or not, me and nobody else. Certainly not Alex Barnes. Not in this lifetime, not in this universe."

Desperation pulses through my veins. I just want this to stop. But you're on to me, and there's no way you're just going to let it go.

"I've told you before. I do not need you, not to tell me who I am, not for any reason," I argue, as much for my own benefit as yours.

"Yes, you do. And that's got you shitting your pants. It was fine as long as I was optional, but my becoming a're not brave enough to go there."

You're calling me a coward, the man who once said I was the living embodiment of all his work, who looked up to me like I was a hero. It cuts me so deep inside I can barely breathe, just like it did when I read that part in your dissertation about my being driven by fear. My pain quickly mutates into fury. I take a step toward you. My hands clench into fists of their own volition.

Your eyes widen with disbelief. "Go ahead," you hiss, defiantly. "You want to hit me? You just go right ahead."

The marks on your face from the beating you took the other day have only just begun to fade. A wave of shame mixes with my anger. I can't hit you, won't hurt you, not after everything I've already done to you, not after you died in that God-forsaken fountain, my fault, all of it. But I can't contain this aggressive force either, and I can't keep my hands off you. I take a step closer, get so far into your personal space it must give you claustrophobia. I glare down at you, making a big show of it, playing on the difference in our height, something I never do. In fact, I usually try to minimize the whole size thing, never wanting you to feel overwhelmed or overshadowed by me. But this time that's exactly what I want, to intimidate you, to scare you off.

I can see your throat muscles working as you swallow, but you don't look away. You won't step back. You have no intention of backing down. Something in me snaps.

"You want to see need, Chief? Fine. I'll show you need."

I grab your shoulders and push you back into your room. I can smell fear on you, but it's just a faint whiff. In our hearts, we both know I'd never intentionally harm you, and maybe you understand even better than I do where this is all leading, because underlying the faint fear there is also arousal. You reacted the same way that first day when I came to your office and threw you up against the wall and again the day Incacha died and I was so seriously out of control. There's just something about my manhandling you that seems to turn you on. I take you by the forearms and pull you towards me. Your pulse shoots through the roof, and your excitement spikes off the charts. Oh, yes. You like this.

I run my hands over your body, feeling your heat, your life. You tremble and shudder everywhere I touch you. Your breath comes quick and shallow. Your eyes are wide and glittering and a little dazed. Your mouth hangs open in surprise, but you don't speak. In fact, you look so stunned I doubt you could tell me your name if you had to. That makes me smile, a big, wide, smug grin. I've done the impossible. I've left you speechless.

That suits me just fine. I'm acting on instinct and you're not trying to talk me out of it. I'd rather give your mouth more interesting things to do anyway. I lean forward and kiss you, not roughly but not daintily either. You're not entirely sure how to react. You don't resist me, but neither do you open yourself up to my exploration. I do it for you, letting myself into your mouth, using my lips and tongue to make my way inside. God, you taste good. You taste like you smell, only more so, richer, deeper, truer. I make myself at home. I find out everything there is to know, claim you like territory, every last one of your teeth, the roof of your mouth, the tender flesh of your gums, the rough raised taste buds on your tongue, all of it, until your mouth and I are no longer strangers.

Your fear and anger seem to have evaporated. So have mine. I pull you hard against me. You groan deep inside your chest. I suck on your tongue like it's a piece of candy. Hell, it is candy to me. You taste so sweet, so unbelievably good, so absolutely necessary. You tighten your arms around my neck, hanging on for dear, sweet life. I hold onto you until there's a very real threat of asphyxiation for us both. Only then do I pull back, give up your warm, yielding mouth. Your face has gone red from lack of air. You're still silent, gasping for breath and trembling all over. Knowing I did that to you does something erotic and thrilling to me.

It's not even a decision I make. Just suddenly my hands are in motion, yanking off clothes, ripping buttons, sending my shirt, your sweater, T-shirt, our belts, pants, socks, boxers, every last scrap of fabric flying into the air. I finally have you naked, and I can't look at you hard enough. I trace the muscles—lean and strong—of your arms, your chest, your abdomen. You shiver. You look up at me, so many questions in your eyes, along with just the hint of shyness, a sweet, wide-eyed innocence. I stroke my hands down your sides and take your hips in my hands. You're painfully erect, your cock curving up toward your belly, already drooling cum. There is nothing innocent about your body. It exudes sensuality. It's meant for pleasure, eager to fuck and be fucked.

You were right. I have been sublimating, and this is what I've been trying to keep at bay. Anger or coldness just seemed so much easier. Hell, it was easier. Standing naked in front of you makes me feel like I've never truly occupied my own body before. I am so utterly in touch with everything I am right now that I can sense my very molecules, the magnetic forces holding me together. I can't breathe, and I'm so hard it really does hurt. And the ache in my cock is nothing compared to the ache in my heart. It's impossible not to understand this now. The enormous feeling inside me has been need all along. The deadened blankness came from trying so desperately to deny it, deny myself, deny you.

I shake my head, trying to clear all that away for the moment. No more thoughts, not right now, just action.

I push you down onto the bed, lie on top of you, kiss you deeply, rubbing against you everywhere our skin touches. You kiss me back just as ferociously, rub against me in a delicious counter-rhythm, spread your legs to bring our bodies closer. We both gasp when our cocks meet. You buck your hips up into mine, demanding more. I thrust back against you, giving you whatever you want, whatever you need.

My head is spinning. Touching you intoxicates me, and I'm already on the verge of coming. I don't want to do that. I need to make this last. Somehow I manage to pull away and get to my knees. You grab my shoulders, trying to bring me back down to you. I caress your hands to let you know everything's all right, asking you to trust me. I kiss you again, then start working my way down your body: shoulder, arms, collarbone, nipples, ribs, navel, fur-covered belly, the crease between hip and thigh, the nest of curls at the base of your penis.

Knowing how delicious your lips are, I can't imagine what it will be like to have your cock in my mouth, to taste you that deeply, that intimately. The desperate, driven feeling is raging inside me now. I can't tell what it wants, whether it's the need urging me on or the terror warring against me. I don't give a shit. I lick at your cock. The taste is blinding, a dizzying pleasure. Your essence is too much to take in with just one sense. It's as if I can see, hear, smell, feel it, with everything I am, down to my last molecule. I start sucking you in earnest, hungrily, greedily, taking your cock as far I can into the back of my throat. You're watching me, your eyes heavy lidded and sensual, pupils large and dilated, your expression a little dazed, so lost in your desire. Little animal sounds stream out of you, little whimpers. I've never heard you whimper before. It scares me how much I like it, how much it turns me on.

You're so close now. I feel your balls draw up. I suck you harder. You moan and thrash your head from side to side. I feel your fingers scrabbling at my shoulders. I don't know if you're trying to pull me closer or push me away. It doesn't matter. I have no intention of letting you go. You buck up, fucking my mouth, and I let you. The blood in your cock is pounding beneath my lips and my tongue. I can sense your orgasm, feel your cum moving through you, until it erupts in my mouth, and I drink it down, swallowing all of it, everything you have to give me.

After you come, you lie there sprawled like a rag doll, your eyes tightly shut. My cock still throbs between my legs. The frenzied feeling inside of me just keeps getting worse. I flip you over, and you yelp, not expecting it. I urge your knees apart and up under your body as far as they'll go, exposing you. I run my hands over your shoulders, down the smooth, lovely curve of your back. I fondle your ass and part your cheeks. I'm no longer thinking in any true sense of the word, simply following my desire and the needs of my senses, doing things I might not ordinarily choose. I bury my face between your cheeks and start making love to you with my mouth. There's nothing in me that hesitates. There's nothing tentative about what I'm doing, no half-hearted little swipes of my tongue. I want to turn you inside out. I want to devour you. I eat your ass like I'm a starving man, and you're the last thing I'll ever get.

You make these little hiccupy, humming noises, and all your muscles shake. You're so relaxed, so open to me, nothing held back. I feel like I could reach all the way inside you and touch your bones, your arteries and veins, all your vital organs. Your heart. Reluctantly, I pull back from your ass. You cry out, a soft, strangled sound of protest.

I caress your hips. "You like that, Chief?" I ask, as I look around the room for what I need. "Do you like to be touched there? Huh, Chief? Do you like it when I touch you there?"

You're out of breath and can't answer, but you tremble harder and I take that as a "yes." I spy what I'm looking for on your beside table and reach for it, keeping one hand on your body, moving along the small of your back and the curve of your ass.

"Maybe this has been the problem all along, huh, Chief? Maybe this is what has been missing."

I pour some of the massage oil into my hand and reach between your cheeks, stroking along the crease, circling your entrance. You moan. I press in one lubed finger. You shriek, and I know it's pleasure, not pain. There's no resistance. You want this as badly as I do.

"You've got such a sweet ass, Chief. A hot, greedy, gorgeous ass," I say, as I work in a second finger, twisting and stretching.

You push back against my hand, fucking yourself on my fingers. Your face is pressed against the pillow, and you're wailing into it, a constant stream of nonsense syllables.

"Is this what you've been wanting, Chief? Hmm? Is it? I wish I'd known," I tell you, adding a third finger, reaching inside you, looking for the sweet spot. You suddenly stiffen and scream, and I know I must have found it. I begin working that spot, and you're practically sobbing, your cock hard again, your whole body shuddering. "Oh, yeah," I say. "Does that feel good, baby? If I'd known, I would have given it to you a lot sooner. I would have fucked your sweet ass a long time ago."

You're loose and open, so ready for me. I pull my fingers out of you, take my cock in my hand, oil it and guide it to your entrance. I press in easily and move deeper and deeper until I'm all the way in. I lift you up so you're straddling my lap, sitting on my cock, my balls brushing your ass. I rest for a moment, panting, giving us both time to adjust. This proves to be a mistake. I shouldn't have paused. I should have just kept going. With that brief hesitation, the sensual momentum that has been driving me dissolves, and the panic comes rushing back in. Want, not need, want, not need. My terror makes a last stand, and I suddenly wonder how I got here, my dick buried so deep inside your body I have no idea where you end and I begin. A hell of a way to keep my distance.

I wrap my arms around your waist, and I can feel your ribs moving up and down beneath my hands, your breath coming in hard, ragged gasps. I'm suddenly terrified that I've hurt you, and I sweep my senses over you in a panic. But all I get is arousal and some other emotion, one I don't recognize, not fear, not fury. I don't know what it is. I don't know what I'm doing. Fucking you. Fucking up the best thing I've ever had.

I rest my forehead against your shoulder blades. Your neck is sweaty, and the curls at your nape are heavy and damp. Beautiful. I have my hands on your hips, clutching you.

"I'm so sorry, Chief. God, am I sorry," I whisper against your sweet, sweet, salty skin.

"Fucking asshole," you hiss, the first thing you've said since we started this. "Don't you dare stop now. Fuck me, damn it! Do it!"

You grab my hands in yours, entwining our fingers, and stretch out both our arms. You press your arms back against mine, using me for leverage, so you can lift up and push down again, fucking yourself on my cock. Your round, beautiful, perfect ass brushes against my belly when you sit back down. I feel myself getting harder inside you.

"Move!" you demand, nearly breathless.

That finally jolts me out of indecision. White hot sensation hits me all at once, the magnificence of being inside you—hot, sweet, gorgeous you. Who the hell have I ever been kidding? I want you. I need you. You're mine. I'm yours. Suddenly, my dick is the throbbing, undeniable center of my universe. I start to thrust into you, moving in time to the rhythm you set. With each thrust, the definition of need is forever rewritten. I have no idea how I made it so far without this amazing connection. I'll never be able to do without it—or you—ever again.

I drop one of your hands, so I can encircle your cock, stroke you. I'm so close now, and I pump you hard, intending to bring you off with me.

You come first, and I follow quickly. Our orgasms rip our hearts out of us. We fall over the edge of something more profound than pleasure. When the last spasm subsides, you sink back against me, boneless, dead weight. My muscles tremble. I can't hold you up. I can't hold myself up. I clutch you around the waist and take you with me as I sink down onto the mattress, turning us both on our sides so I can spoon up behind you. Your head is tucked under my chin, and one of my hands is splayed across your belly, rising and falling with the action of your diaphragm as you struggle to regain control of your breathing. You're covered in cum, and I feel it drying on your skin. I gather the last little bit of my strength to try to get up and go for a washcloth. I'm still inside you, and I brace my hand on your hip to pull out.

You quickly grab for me. "Stay," you say, meaning everything, all of it, inviting me to stay inside your body, to remain in your arms, welcoming me into your bed, your heart, your life.

I hesitate for just the briefest moment. There's not really a decision to be made here. I already chose you, a long time ago. I was just being stubborn. It's a relief to let all that go, finally. I relax onto the bed again, snuggling against your warm, sweat-slicked back, burying my face in your hair, breathing you in. You clutch my hand, holding it against your chest, and I feel your heart beating, your blood pulsing beneath my palm. A dizzying wave of love rushes through me, leaving me lightheaded. Somehow the laws of physics have all been turned upside down. I was the one thrusting in and out of your body just now, but somehow you are the one who is inside me, filling me up, burying yourself in my soul, up to the hilt.

You're already drifting off to sleep. I can hear your pulse and breath slowing. I finally soften enough to slip from your body, and I can't help feeling a sense of loss. I hold onto you like you're my lifeline, which it seems you are.

"This is what's been missing, Jim," you mumble, drowsily.

"Mmmm," I whisper against your neck, my lips lightly brushing your skin. "I love you, Blair."

Even with your back turned to me, I can feel your smile. "Love you too, man."

And you really do. I can feel it radiating off you, the same mysterious emotion I'd sensed when I entered you. Oh my God. It was love. How amazing.

I kiss your shoulder, overcome with tenderness. "Goodnight, Chief. Sweet dreams."

But you're already asleep. I guess I wore you out. Funny. For the first time in a long time, I feel completely refreshed. Renewed. Alive. Like I finally understand what Incacha meant about banishing the darkness, about the light needing to shine from within. It was you, me, the love between us—all along. What a revelation.

I suppose finally accepting what you need can do that for you.


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